New Knowledge or New Generations?

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

-Ephesians 2:19-21

What is the point of seminaries? Is it to discover new knowledge or to train a new generation? While many would like to quickly conclude “both,” the two often pull in opposite directions on very common and central questions. For example, do we ask students primarily to critique what has been passed down or understand what has been passed down? Do we certify seminary professors by training them to research or training them to teach? Are we more focused on new books or new congregations?

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I think the answer probably does come around to “both” in the end, but my experience has convinced me that we’re too quick to focus on each of the former options and too reticent to spend our lives on each of the latter responsibilities. David Wells explains how the university model has shaped theological education all the way down to the mode of inquiry, the values that determine what is accepted as true:

The university opens its arms to those theologians who can successfully disguise themselves as psychologists, anthropologists, or sociologists looking for divine reality within the structures of the self or society, but it is a good deal less hospitable to those who find it hard, if not impossible, to see these mediating structures as themselves the vehicles of revelation and who look instead to Scripture as a confessional source that does not merely mirror human consciousness but is the means of transcendent disclosure.

David Wells, No Place for Truth, p.126

We need to remember that we are (miraculously) “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” We should devote significant time–more time–to understanding what has been passed down, training professors to teach, focusing on congregations and not just books, because our chief responsibility is not to be original. Jesus Christ originated the Church. Our chief responsibility is to be faithful to Him.

We may indeed hit upon new knowledge. For example, how do we spread the good news of Jesus Christ in a mobile phone world? What should Christians say and do about this American presidential election, and the next one, and the next one? How do I care for this student, this congregant, this friend? There are always new questions. However, our primary commission is not to discover new knowledge; it is to be and shepherd a new generation, called and cleansed and commissioned by Christ.

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